Mandarin-English program could move to fix overcrowding at oldest Chapel Hill school

Students learn Chinese calligraphy in this file photo taken at Glenwood Elementary School in Chapel Hill.
Students learn Chinese calligraphy in this file photo taken at Glenwood Elementary School in Chapel Hill. N&O file photo

A plan to fix overcrowding by making Glenwood Elementary a magnet-school solution is up in the air again.

At the center of the problem is the school’s Mandarin-English Dual Language Program, which the magnet proposal presented to the school board last month would have preserved. The dual track program offers two classes of Mandarin in each grade level.

The magnet designation had not been determined, but leaders were considering Global Studies; the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme; Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM); or Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics (STEAM).

Glenwood would have begun the 2019-20 school year as a magnet under the proposal.

But after looking closer at the logistics of making the switch and hearing from school personnel and parents, the board will soon consider several other alternatives, which it discussed at a special meeting last week.

The staff presented the board with three options to deal with overcrowding:

▪ Cut the Mandarin program into only one track;

▪ Change the program to an elective model that would offer Mandarin to all Glenwood students for 45 minutes a day plus possible additional after-school or summer instruction;

▪ Continue to move toward making Glenwood a magnet school.

Glenwood Elementary, which is the oldest Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools school building, is built to hold 450 students but already has more than 500, with enrollment expected to go up with expected growth in its attendance zone.

After some discussion, the board also added the options of making an under-capacity school in the district a magnet and moving the Mandarin program there, or simply moving the Mandarin program to a less crowded school.

Board member Pat Heinrich opposed making the program one track because attrition of students as they leave for other opportunities in the district could become a problem.

Board member Margaret Samuels spoke in favor of the magnet school model. “The way it was presented the research that was done, the way it was to be implemented, I think, was a pro,” she said. “I think on the converse side of that, the rollout and the concern of it is likely a con, and whether there is sufficient community support for it.”

Board member Amy Fowler suggested that it would be better to pick a school without overcrowding and to move the Mandarin program there. “If we have overcrowding we don’t need to attract more students to the school,” she said, “we need fewer students.”

Superintendent Pamela Baldwin said she would want principals involved in a discussion of making another school a magnet and moving the Mandarin program there, if that is the direction the board decides to take.

Baldwin said she would like to hear a solution for the overcrowding by the summer. One solution that had previously been proposed that she said she would definitely not want to use is spot redistricting, which the Glenwood attendance zone has already undergone in recent years.

She also said she would prefer not to move the Mandarin program to another school, a move that could result in redistricting throughout the district.

The board heard from about 60 speakers during the public comment portion of the meeting, including students and teachers in the Mandarin program, as well as parents of students in the program.

Uffe Bergeton, an assistant professor in the Department of Asian Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, said the university has formed a relationship with the Mandarin program, with students from the program excelling at UNC. He added that some of those students want to teach Mandarin in state schools.

Michelle King, who has a daughter in the Mandarin program, said the program “expands our sense of who we are and who we can be as North Carolinians.”

Matt Goad: